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government lies


May 9, 2007

In recent public meetings and media coverage of the Fox River channel and capping issue, government agency representatives have made a number of grossly inaccurate statements in an effort to deflect citizen concerns and undercut Congressman Steve Kagen's fact-finding effort

For example:

1. Agency staff say it's too late to change the Fox River cleanup plan, but this is absolutely not true.  The Fox River "Record of Decision" can be amended at any time when new scientific information, new treatment technologies, or practical problems arise.  Public pressure can also amend the plan.

2. Agency staff claim they have no choice but to accept the lowest cost option presented to them by the corporations.  Again, absolutely untrue.  Under Superfund, the cleanup is supposed to meet all nine of the following criteria.  [Our view of their applicability is in brackets.]

a. Overall protection of human health and the environment [Temporary caps would not protect health in the long-term.]

b. Compliance with applicable or relevant and appropriate requirements (ARARs) under federal environmental laws and state environmental or facility siting laws.  [The caps could easily violate water quality standards when they leak or break apart in a storm.]

c. Long-term effectiveness and permanence.  [Even the agencies admit the caps will not be permanent.]

d. Reduction of toxicity, mobility or volume through treatment [The agencies are ignoring dozens of new, proven treatment technologies which could separate, break down and permanently destroy the PCBs.]

e. Short-term effectiveness. [Capping may stir up more PCBs that vacuum-style dredging would, causing short-term increases in PCB pollution in the water and fish.]

f.  Implementability. The ease or difficulty of implementing the alternatives must be assessed. [Dredging is a proven remedy, already successful for 3 years on Little Lake Butte des Morts.  Capping is unproven, experimental and may be impossible to design for long-term effectiveness or even to place safely in the short-term.]

f.  Cost. The types of costs that shall be assessed include the following: (1) Capital costs, including both direct and indirect costs; (2) Annual operation and maintenance costs; and (3) Net present value of capital and O&M costs. [ The Fox River capping plan includes only 40 years of monitoring, NOT the true long-term cost.  The agencies are being extremely evasive regarding exactly how much money is involved and who will have long-term liability for the longterm monitoring, maintenance and repair of the caps.  The cost estimate should also factor in the lost economic opportunities on the Fox River when the river bottom becomes permanently off-limits to any changes, and future shipping options are limited.]

h. State acceptance. [This can be changed if the public speaks up.]

i.  Community acceptance. This assessment includes determining which components of the alternatives interested persons in the community support, have reservations about, or oppose. This assessment may not be completed until comments on the proposed plan are received. (NOTE: This is separate and distinct from the public's ability to comment on the process or on what alternatives it wants implemented. Therefore, the public may comment at any time to the Governor and EPA!)

3. Agency staff claim that the public input process is over and no more comments will be accepted to change the plan.  Not true.  See 2(i) above.

4. Agency staff claim that capping will get faster results.  But when the final Fox River clean-up plan was released in 2003, the DNR and EPA promised us that the last section of the river would begin clean-up in 2006 and would take 10 years.   Now, the DNR is telling us the main clean-up may not start until 2009, but that the capping plan will shorten the clean-up timeline from 20 years to 10 years, the same amount of time.  They claim the earlier estimate was voided by the discovery of a higher volume of sediment to be addressed, but the increase was only from 6.6 million cubic yards to 7.6 million.  That doesn't explain a DOUBLING in the first plan's timeline.  Apparently, the agencies expect us to lose track of such details.

5. Agency staff claim that the Fox River cleanup is not following "the voluntary, cooperative approach," but they admit that they've been holding 10 years of closed door "settlement negotiations" with the polluters, where the polluters have exclusive access to and influence over the agencies as they negotiate cleanup standards, the extent of cleanup, deadlines, cleanup methods, disposal methods, monitoring methods, and longterm funding responsibilities.  The agencies claim that the corporations are under pressure to meet the agencies' demands, because the agencies could start a Superfund enforcement action, but at the same time the agencies are saying they don't want Superfund enforcement.  Unfortunately, the corporations also know that the agencies and politicians are increasingly anxious to start a cleanup, ANY cleanup, just to show results to the public.   Any further delays the corporations can cause will only strengthen their bargaining position.

6. Agency staff claim that Superfund designation would not make the Fox River cleanup better or faster.  Not true.  First of all, caps are not permanent, so a "faster" cleanup with caps is only an illusion.  Second, the cleanup could certainly be made BETTER, because the corporations would not dictate the plan.  Unfortunately, it's true that the physical cleanup start might require a few more years in court.  In 1995, the Republican Congress eliminated the federal surcharge tax on oil and chemical industries which had supplied the money in Superfund, so the Fund went bankrupt in 2003.  Prior to then, the Fox River cleanup could have started immediately using Superfund dollars, at the same time that a court battle played out.  Now, the agencies are in an extremely weak bargaining position because the only money available must come from the polluting corporations, either WILLINGLY or through a court battle.  The polluters' strategy to delay the cleanup for decades has now given them a powerful bargaining chip. 

And More of the Same...

At the public hearing last December, agency staff gave several dishonest answers to direct questions from the public.  For example:

1.  Agency staff told us (and their factsheets claim) that capping must be used, because there isn't enough landfill space to accommodate the full dredging plan.   But the Veolia Hickory Meadows Landfill north of Chilton and the Town of Holland Landfill in southern Brown County EACH has enough capacity to contain all of the sediment which could be generated by the most ambitious dredging effort.  But in the last 5 years, we've learned that neither the EPA nor the DNR has pursued the use of those sites.  Instead, they've waited for the polluting corporations to work it out and come to them with an application for landfilling the sediments.  But the corporations want to cap the sediments, and save $190-210 million, so they never pursued landfilling.  Our politicians and government agencies have passively accepted this, and are now misleading the public on the issue.

2. Agency staff said groundwater upwelling had been addressed and wasn't a problem.  Our technical advisor says that is absolutely not true.

3. Agency staff said ice formation had been addressed and wasn't a problem.  Our technical advisor says that is absolutely not true.

4. Agency staff said they used other successful comparable caps in other parts of the country to help them design these caps.  But there ARE no comparable caps in a flowing river of this size at our northern latitude.

5. Agency staff said PCBs stick to particles and will not move once capped.  But lower-chlorinated PCBs are soluble and WILL move with water and air.  And as the PCBs gradually break down they will turn into lower-chlorinated PCBs, so ultimately all the PCBs will become mobile.  Lower-chlorinated PCBs are still seriously toxic.

6. Agency staff said the limited 40 year monitoring time was not a problem because EPA would continue to do monitoring forever afterwards into the future.  But will EPA exist?  Who will pay for it?  Why are the corporations paying for only 40 years?  Don't these questions pose problems for the future?

7. Agency staff said the caps would be as secure as landfills, a claim they can't back with any evidence, and is certainly NOT true for the sand blankets which are not barrier caps at all.  The sand is only a dilution layer that will gradually (or quickly) erode downstream --- sand caps  would never be allowed at an upland landfill.

8. Agency staff assured the public that the corporations would always be liable if problems develop with the cap, which they know to be untrue given the likelihood that the corporations will demand a cash-out of their liability once the plan is done.  They also know that a hundred years from now our political situation could be vastly different, the laws may change, and the corporations may not exist.  The agencies are being extremely evasive on this issue.

9.  Agency staff said it was important to use a mix of technologies to address the Fox River problem. Why?  Why abandon a proven technology (dredging and landfilling) in favor of a purely experimental and risky technology (capping in a large northern river) that has NOT yet demonstrated one success?

10. Agency staff said that skin contact and inhalation of PCBs are neglible risks and the only significant health risks are from fish consumption.  They imply that it's fine for children to play in the contaminated muds along the Fox River shoreline.  This is absolutely not true. The Fox River risk assessment DID find elevated risks due to skin contact and inhalation.  Those risks may be lower than fish consumption risks, but that doesn't mean the risks are non-existent. Also, the science on PCBs is not complete.  PCBs are rapidly absorbed through the skin and  accumulate from this exposure, and are ADDED to all other exposures.  Few studies have looked at health effects in people who have chronic, long-term exposure to lower concentrations of PCBs, particularly to the lower-weight, volatile, hormone-mimic PCBs which are more transient in our bodies and easiest to inhale or absorb through the skin.  Please see the skin contact and inhalation sections of this website.

Our governments are deliberately misleading us.  Who are they working for?

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Fox River Watch is a project of

Clean Water Action Council
1270 Main Street, Suite 120, Green Bay, WI 54302 
Phone: 920-437-7304, Fax: 920-437-7326 
E-mail:  CleanWater@cwac.net

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